This post contributed by Content & Community Specialist Heather Rast.
The early weeks of every year can be pretty symbolic. We give ourselves a pass to shirk the poor work habits of just a few weeks prior. Hopes abound that a big red “re-do” button will let us start anew on the lists of tasks gathering crumbs on the edge of the desk. A fresh start to make smart choices, and all that.
By now we know that some well-intentioned efforts falter, just as others prevail. With this realistic point of view in mind, I hope to improve your odds of saying goodbye to some small but significant hazards to leading an independent career, and instead wring a little more out of your annual planning.
Stop avoiding discussions about money. Businesses large and small have to make money, and you have the right to ask for some when giving counsel, discussing plans, and pitching in. Yes, sometimes it can be awkward to inject a clarifying statement (“Sure, I can write up some of my thoughts on that so you can review recommendations against your budget.”) but I’ve found it only gets stickier if you allow your anxiety to grow, impede interest in immersing yourself in the work, or cloud your objectivity.
Chances are, one of the things you enjoy most about being your own boss is the flexibility of managing your own time. Even while client obligations drive some aspects of scheduling, I’ve found happiness in a more fluid concept of “work hours” than I experienced as an employee. Riding tandem with my ability to walk away from my desk for a few hours is a greater importance on time management. Dare I say, when you’re working for “the man,” a bit of time at the coffee machine or digesting the latest mass-emailed joke is of little concern. When you work for yourself, it’s better to avoid those time-sucks and find shortcuts for routine chores. Working 12-hour days isn’t healthy or sustainable, and it can be hard to stop the spiral.
Hand-in-hand with making the best use of your time is the need for the right tools for the job. In the time I’ve been in business, I’ve tested and trialed my way through a fair number of tools and apps that were seemingly must-haves for solos.
I’m keeping: Freshbooks and Hootsuite. I tossed: LinkedIn Gold, Scribe SEO, Sprout Social and Zoho Projects.
In my experience the premium LinkedIn subscription didn’t net me better access or more insight. Any number of good WordPress plug-ins can rival Scribe SEO. And while Sprout Social has some neat features for finding potential connections, I’ve found at the mechanics of scheduling outweigh potential data mining. Besides, I use a BuzzStream trick for that. Oh, and Zoho Projects is like having surgery to remove a splinter. Try Asana or Get It Done! instead.
Before reading on, think about your recurring monthly expenses – what are you dragging your feet on cancelling or downgrading? If unnecessary costs add up to $25 per month, that's $300 a year you could allocate to a more worthwhile line item. Like a new ergonomic chair.
Now’s the time to stop thinking about business insurance and start retaining business insurance (trust me, I’m admonishing myself at this moment as much as advising you). Do you have life insurance? Medical insurance? So if you understand the concept of risk, why bet your assets and future earnings on any number of simple incidents that could devastate what you’re trying to build?
One of our many jobs is that of an engineer. Part of making growth plans for the business includes understanding the fundamentals – and fluctuations – of our earnings. Some of the best dollars I’ve ever spent went to tax counsel and accounting delivered by a professional. While I tried a CPA at first, I quickly realized her company’s methods and billing structure were better suited to a $8 million/year business. I turned to my local SCORE chapter and quickly got a lead on a savvy accountant who takes on the lions’ share of thinking and doing for me, and at a reasonable cost.
These are some recommendations I'd make to any indie aiming to get a leg up on 2012 planning. What would you add? What did I miss?